Grijalva: Climate Letters Went Too Far in Seeking Correspondence

The House Democrat defended his push for disclosure of funding sources, but says a request for professors’ communications was an “overreach”

TUSCON, AZ - APRIL 24: U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) denounces Arizona's tough new immigration law on April 24, 2010 in Tuscon, Arizona. Grijalva, who shut his Tuscon office the day before because of death threats, called for an economic boycott of Arizona because of the new law, which he called racist. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
March 2, 2015, 5:19 p.m.

A prom­in­ent Demo­crat prob­ing out­side fund­ing for sev­en uni­versity pro­fess­ors who stake out skep­tic­al or con­tro­ver­sial po­s­i­tions on cli­mate change said his re­quest for their cor­res­pond­ence with fun­ders and oth­ers was an “over­reach.”

But Rep. Raul Gri­jalva is also strongly de­fend­ing his search for ties between fossil-fuel in­terests and cli­mate re­search against charges that it’s a “witch hunt,” ar­guing that the thrust of the in­quiry is aimed at provid­ing im­port­ant dis­clos­ures.

The Ari­zona Demo­crat sent let­ters last week to sev­en uni­versit­ies seek­ing in­form­a­tion on the sources and amounts of ex­tern­al fund­ing for re­search, con­sult­ing, travel, and more.

The let­ters also broadly asked for “com­mu­nic­a­tion” re­gard­ing the fund­ing, and com­mu­nic­a­tion re­lated to testi­mony to Con­gress and oth­er bod­ies pre­pared by the pro­fess­ors.

“The com­mu­nic­a­tions back-and-forth is hon­estly sec­ond­ary, and I would even on my own say that that was an over­reach in that let­ter,” Gri­jalva, the top Demo­crat on the Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee, told Na­tion­al Journ­al on Monday. “I want the dis­clos­ure [of fund­ing sources]. Then people can draw their own con­clu­sions.”

His probe fol­lows rev­el­a­tions that Wei-Hock (Wil­lie) Soon of the Har­vard-Smith­so­ni­an Cen­ter for As­tro­phys­ics, who dis­putes the sci­entif­ic con­sensus that hu­man activ­it­ies are the main driver of glob­al warm­ing, failed to dis­close re­search fund­ing from Ex­xon, South­ern Com­pany, and oth­er fossil-fuel in­dustry sources.

Gri­jalva’s probe has drawn fire in re­cent days from crit­ics who call it an af­front to aca­dem­ic free­dom, and the re­quest for com­mu­nic­a­tions has been one of the fo­cal points.

“[R]equest­ing cop­ies of the re­search­er’s com­mu­nic­a­tions re­lated to ex­tern­al fund­ing op­por­tun­it­ies or the pre­par­a­tion of testi­mony im­pinges on the free pur­suit of ideas that is cent­ral to the concept of aca­dem­ic free­dom,” the Amer­ic­an Met­eor­o­lo­gic­al So­ci­ety said in a let­ter to Gri­jalva Fri­day.

Also on Fri­day, the head of an­oth­er sci­entif­ic group, the Amer­ic­an Geo­phys­ic­al Uni­on, said in a blog post that seek­ing dis­clos­ure of fun­ders is ap­pro­pri­ate but that “ask­ing them [pro­fess­ors] to share drafts of testi­mony or com­mu­nic­a­tions about that testi­mony goes too far.”

Gri­jalva played down his in­terest in re­ceiv­ing cop­ies of the com­mu­nic­a­tions. “As long as we get a re­sponse as to the fund­ing sources, I think everything else is sec­ond­ary and not ne­ces­sary,” he said in the Cap­it­ol on Monday even­ing.

Gri­jalva said he was will­ing to “elim­in­ate that re­quest” for com­mu­nic­a­tions if it be­comes a bar­ri­er to the oth­er dis­clos­ures that he is seek­ing.

The let­ters also seek in­form­a­tion on the uni­versit­ies’ policies on fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure and cop­ies of the fin­an­cial-dis­clos­ure forms that the pro­fess­ors have filed.

Gri­jalva is tar­get­ing aca­dem­ics who have test­i­fied be­fore Con­gress at the in­vit­a­tion of Re­pub­lic­ans and have gen­er­ally con­tested the sci­entif­ic con­sensus around the real­ity of hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change or down­played the risks.

“This is not a witch hunt. We are not ask­ing for all their data, for all their re­search. We are ask­ing for dis­clos­ure, simple as that,” he said.

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